Opportunities for Spanish Diplomacy in Times of Crisis

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Opportunities for Spanish Diplomacy in Times of Crisis. Alicia Sorroza. Elcano Blog
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Everyone has heard the story that the word ‘crisis’ can have a number of different meanings. President Kennedy himself, in a speech in 1959, popularised the idea that ‘crisis’ in Chinese means both ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’, although the truth is actually slightly more complex than that. Until the end of the 19th century the traditional meaning of the Mandarin word w?ij? had been that of ‘latent danger’; however, curiously enough, from that time on it began to refer to ‘financial crisis’ or ‘economic crisis’. In any case, whether in Chinese or Spanish, the word ‘crisis’ designates a critical moment from which a situation, depending on the decisions taken, can either improve or deteriorate further. These are times of change and the consequences can be significant: a crisis can give rise to certain practices –such as economic restrictions– and provide the occasion to tackle matters in ways that were previously considered unfeasible due to interests, inertia or other reasons.

The foreign policy sphere is no exception. Spain and other EU member countries were reluctant to undertake a reorganisation of their diplomatic missions or reinforce the European dimension. However, the news that Spain signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the European External Action Service on 10 December 2012 in order to establish a Spanish Embassy within the premises of the EU Delegation to Yemen could be the beginning of a new phase. In principle, it can be assessed as a positive decision as it is aimed at both maximising Spain’s influence abroad and reducing the resources invested in doing so.

Economic criteria were the driving forces underlying the decision. However, there should also be a more strategic consideration, linked to a view of the future of Spanish diplomacy (and foreign policy in general) in a context of adapting to the new European legal framework and the new capacities assumed by the EU pursuant to the Lisbon Treaty.

Despite possible doubts or criticism about the establishment of the European External Action Service, its present and future impact on the EU’s member states and therefore also on Spain’s diplomacy and foreign policy is undeniable, as argued in ‘The Impact of the European External Action Service on Spanish Diplomacy’ (Sorroza & Molina, Elcano Royal Institute, 2012). As explained in the study, since it became part of the EU, Spain has been following a double strategy: on the one hand Europeanising its foreign policy (‘downloading’) and, on the other, nationalising the European agenda (‘uploading’). Nevertheless, the context has changed and evolved. Spain finds it increasingly difficult to shape the agenda of an enlarged Europe in crisis and with a tendency towards renationalisation, to which must be added the EU’s discrete performance as a global actor (and that is being benevolent).

For that reason, it has become necessary for Spain’s foreign policy to develop original and sophisticated ways of influencing and shaping European action, not only with respect to issues and geographical areas that are of interest to Spain but also with those for which Spain accepts a greater European leadership and prominence.

The establishment of a fruitful and positive relation (going beyond the mere presence of Spanish citizens in it) with the European External Action Service, both at its headquarters and at its delegations in other countries is essential to the foreign policy of not only Spain but of Europe as well, since neither can be envisaged or implemented without taking into account the complex network of interlinked relations and interests of the EU’s member states.

However, this is only one element which must necessarily be combined with a much broader process of rethinking Spain’s role in the world and its external action beyond the present crisis, a consideration that cannot be separated from another debate of enormous relevance: the EU’s (political) future. Undoubtedly, there are many open issues (which are not considered here) and it is impossible not to ask oneself: will Europe –and, in particular, Spain– be able to shape this critical moment in order to overcome the difficult and complicated situation in which it is immersed. The only possible answer has to be ‘yes’.